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4 Stars

The Fabelmans (2022)

Years ago, I remember going on the epic, arduous, and downright absurd task of ranking my 20 favorite directors of all time (looking back, at least I was not foolish enough to say they were the concrete “best” of all time). The list was obviously personal, but I don’t regret saying that Steven Spielberg came in at number 2…just behind Hitchcock.

With the possible exception of Scoresese, no other director is more familiar with the public in the last half century than Spielberg. I can’t think of another director in my lifetime who has played the nostalgia card to perfection, and nostalgia is indeed one of the key forces that drives his semi-autobiographical tale, The Fabelmans.

I have read up a bit on Spielberg’s life over the years, so I can say a good amount of what is shown is indeed based on his experiences. The avatar for young Spielberg is young Sammy Fabelman (Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord), who we are introduced to right away outside the movie theater as he is about to see his first movie, Cecil B. Demille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. Even though the film nowadays is considered by many (including me) as one of the worst Oscar winners for Best Picture, it still has a profound impact on Sammy (as it did Spielberg), mainly the famous train wreck scene. With the blessing of his mother (Michelle Williams), Sammy uses his father’s camera to record a train wreck scene of his own with his model trains, sparking his love for making home movies even more. 

Sammy’s love for making movies continues even into his young teen years (played by Gabriel Labelle, who does look somewhat like Spielberg), making his own westerns and (especially) war pictures. He is fortunate to still get the support (or at least enough support) from his mother and father (Paul Dano), as well as his father’s best friend, “Uncle” Bennie (a cleanly shaven Seth Rogen). Some of the best advice comes from a great uncle (Judd Hirsch, still thriving and thrilling to watch at 87 years old) in one remarkable, memorable scene. The support of his younger sisters varies throughout Sammy’s childhood (one of the sisters played by the mega talented young Julia Butters, the stand out child actor from Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood).

From my vantage point, perhaps the most intriguing thing about Spielberg as a filmmaker is his ability to balance all aspects of a film. Sure, he knows the importance of camera movement perhaps better than any living director, but he does not put all his chips in that basket. 

He values the script (which he co-wrote with Tony Kushner) as much as he does the lighting (which is marvelous thanks in part to his frequently used cinematographer Janusz Kaminski) or the film’s editing (another frequent Spielberg collaborator, Michael Kahn). 

Each performance is as valued as another, from Michelle William’s almost certain next Oscar nomination to the scene stealing Chloe East as Sammy’s love interest. 

He even values the little details such as how the family cleans the dinner table (was that something that happened back then, or was it just a thing the Spielberg household did?) as much as he does the musical score (which says something when he is using his lifelong friend/music legend John Williams). 

Parents, the movie is PG-13, mainly for the content and some swearing (I don’t recall any F bombs). There is some kissing, but no sexual content. I would think mature middle schoolers and above would be fine.

Toward the end of the film (which is admittedly rather long), we see the story of Spielberg’s youth I was hoping we would see, his encounter with one of his filmmaking idols. I won’t say who it is, only that is indeed one of the most influential filmmakers of all time (and, looking back at my previously mentioned list of directors, was ranked number three behind Spielberg). 

By the end, we realize, somewhat by indirection, what makes Spielberg such a masterful cinematic storyteller: his movies (even the mediocre ones) are the cinematic dreams we truly never forget.

Overall:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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3 1/2 Stars

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

It is feasible to believe that no other MCU film to date has had a bigger emotional mountain to climb than Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

The first film was such a mammoth success (financially, critically, and even Oscar wise) that a sequel was inevitable from the get go. Then, of course, tragedy struck when the world lost Chadwick Boseman in August of 2020, leaving the sequel in serious jeopardy. Also add in the fact that this would be the final film in Phase 4 of the MCU, and you can see why this film had a lot to accomplish. 

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2 1/2 Stars

Black Adam (2022)

There was this one moment in The Office when Dwight mentions the online game called “Second Life.” In it, he does everything he would do in his everyday life, except now he can fly.

As the titular character of Black Adam, one could say something along the same lines for Dwayne Johnson (and before you say “Wait, he doesn’t have electrical powers!”, keep in mind I grew up knowing him as the most “electrifying man in sports entertainment”.)

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1 1/2 Stars

Amsterdam (2022)

It’s been nine years since the last film I had seen of David O. Russell’s (American Hustle), and seven since his last film (Joy).

In that time, even more has been brought up being in the working atmosphere of David O. Russell (as well as at least one sexual misconduct allegation).

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1 Star Movies

Pinocchio (2022)

There is no way I can discuss the live action remake of Pinocchio without talking in depth about the 1940 animated masterpiece

Maybe I just can’t see past the end of my nose, but it is what it is.

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4 1/2 Stars

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2022)

Sometimes, I really can walk into a movie with high expectations, but in the case of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, can you blame me?

Afterall, it isn’t easy getting a score of 98% on Rottentomatoes with over a hundred reviews (not to mention a 92% audience score with over 500 reviews), nor to be a film based off of a series of short films. Add in the fact that the film is literally about a living breathing Shell trying to find his family and it is no wonder one could consider this film nothing short of a long shot. 

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4 Stars Movies

Nope (2022)

Perhaps baseball is not the best of comparisons, but if director Jordan Peele were to have his next seven films be duds, he would still be batting .300. Of course, that would also mean that Shyamalan would have a decent batting record also, so…oh nevermind (well, maybe lower if we count just how horrible The Last Airbender was.

Anyhow, after his 2017 breakthrough Get Out (which I did not like at first and admit my mistake) and 2019’s breathtaking Us, Jordan Peele’s Nope is yet another piece of proof that the man has come much further than one would have thought of the old Comedy Central veteran. 

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3 Stars Movies

Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

The key ingredient that made 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok one of the MCU’s most entertaining entries was it’s director Taika Waititi. The first two Thor films (mainly the second one) should almost be embarrassed when compared to the third, because the character was given a big injection of the unique semi-quirky humor that Waititi is known for.

 Five years (and one Infinity War) later, the director has returned with Thor: Love and Thunder. It has the director’s touch, but it is lacking some of his magic.

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"Top Tens", and others

2022 Halftime Report

As of this writing, I have seen a little over twenty five movies, both in theaters and on streaming.

This time around for my looking back at the first half of the year, I will do so in a way that would make Michael Scott of The Office proud: a 2022 cinematic “Dundees” for the first half of 2022.

In no particular order…

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3 Stars

Elvis (2022)

Weirdly, I can’t remember the first time I heard of Elvis, but I do remember the first time I recognized him. It was when a young Forrest Gump recognized him on TV after meeting “the King” earlier on in life. Needless to say, of course I have always been a fan of him.

This just goes to show that Elvis, one of the top five or so most popular entertainers in American history, is almost as embedded into that history as Washington or Lincoln. A truly larger than life stage presence indeed would deserve a biographical film of that caliber. Enter director Baz Luhrmann, and you get Elvis.